Therapeutic Students Gaining Confidence through Fancy Dining

 In Camelot Blog, Camelot News

Fridays have become very fancy at Camelot of the Quad Cities.

High school teacher Regina Knobloch, looking for ways to encourage progress among her students at the therapeutic school in Moline, came up with the idea to convert the school’s ‘apartment’ into a fancy dining room on Fridays.

“We were trying to figure out how to incorporate more life skills into the curriculum,” she said. “In high school, we start thinking about independent living – and preparing meals, and also trying to motivate students. We decided on Fancy Friday and opened it to all students who are in good standing.”

Knobloch and her two multi-need-student classroom paraprofessionals showed students the basics of fine dining and then turned things over to them.

“The first week that we did this I really took my time and showed them how to dress a table, how to get a table ready to go, went through it step by step and they just soaked it up. They couldn’t get enough of it.”

By the end of the first month, students were handling every aspect on the meal, preparing the table, rolling the napkins, putting the chargers down. Students rotate who chooses the menu.

“The student who chooses the menu is known as the host,” Knobloch said. “They choose the color of the tablecloth, the color of the napkins and then they choose the menu. We’ve had anything from lasagna to spaghetti to tacos to meatloaf. And I try to use as much fancy tableware as possible, salt and pepper shakers, the glass dishes and the bread baskets.”

And what would a fancy meal be without a toast? The person sitting next to the host normally performs that task, including talking about the positive things that have happened that week. The person who is choosing the menu types up the courses on a Google Doc and walks around handing it out to the front office team. That way if the executive director and principal can make it down they know what’s on the menu. Meantime, parents say their students are talking about the experience at home.

“They’re pointing out some tips,” said Knobloch. “For instance when you’re finished at a restaurant the way you let your waiter know is by turning your fork upside down on your plate. That way you’re not yelling out ‘I’m finished.’ Little things like that have just turned this into a great opportunity not only for life skills and conversation starters but they all get involved in preparing the meals as much as possible in the apartment’s small kitchen.”

The Camelot therapeutic school has a small apartment with a bedroom, living and dining room and kitchenette to give older students a feel for independent home life.

Knobloch, who has a master’s degree in early childhood special education and has eight children of her own, says this kind of activity comes naturally to her, a mixture of mothering and teaching. Having that size family also helps in another important way.

“I have a stash of ties and shirts and jackets at home so I bring them in for the young men. I also dress up for the occasion,” she said. “We have the lights dimmed. We play dinner music. The whole tone and the atmosphere and the way they talk and we take our time creates a much stronger family-like atmosphere that when we are in the regular classroom.”

There’s even a nutritional benefit in exposing students to a three-course meal instead of fast food. But the major impact of the program is the incentive it provides.

“One of my most behaviorally challenging students is now my best Fancy Friday kiddo,” Knobloch said. “And he even will say, ‘This is how you laugh in a fancy restaurant (and do the highbrow laugh).’ We’ve had two elementary students join us that have been successful. I would sure be open to having elementary students try this.”

One student doesn’t want to sit at the table. He wants to be the waiter.

“I tell them this how my brother started at 15, you can be a busboy or busgirl and when you wrap the silverware and fold the napkins you can get paid for that!”

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